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Hockey World League Final: India have their task cut out against Australia

BHUBANESWAR: Under a relatively new coach and a team whose average age is 23.5 years, Indian Hockey team aims to build on recent continental success when they begin their Odisha Hockey World League Final campaign from Friday. They face defending champions Australia at the Kalinga Stadium in a Pool B match and will hope to start the tournament on a strong note.

This event serves as the precursor to a busy 2018 wherein Indian team will take part in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Hockey World Cup scheduled to be held at the same venue. So, it is a perfect opportunity for coach Sjoerd Marijne to fine tune his plans and get the strategy in place before the team embarks on bigger and difficult challenges.

Dutch Marijne replaced compatriot Roelant Oltmans two months back in a sudden but unsurprising move by Hockey India. And in his first major assignment, Marjine, who was the chief coach of the India women’s team, guided his troops to title victory at the Men’s Asia Cup in October – a trophy they won for the first time in 10 years.

A new coach brings in with him a slew of changes and so has been the case with Marjine. He wants the players to not hold the ball for more than two seconds, his training methods are unconventional and he demands more from his men. The squad was divided into two groups and faced each other in friendly game, replicating the match conditions. It was a high intensity session with focus on short, crisp passes with the head passing instructions.

Their recent success notwithstanding, India have been found wanting when it comes to major international events. Placed in a pool which includes the likes of current world champion Australia, Germany and England, the Indian team has their task cut out.

SV Sunil at 28 years and with 222 matches under his belt is the most experienced of the lot while Dipsan Tirkey, who made name at the junior world cup, is the youngest (19) in the 18-man squad.

Veteran midfielder Sardar Singh wasn’t picked for the tournament and another experienced stalwart PR Sreejesh also misses out due to injury. In the absence of their combined experience, the team will bank on the exuberance of youth, led by captain Manpreet Singh and calming presence of returning Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra.

While the start to Marjine’s rein has been quite positive, India continue to be plagued by the inability to convert penalty corners. The recent example being their Asia Cup opener against host Bangladesh where they could only score twice from 13 penalty corners. India still cruised to a 7-0 win in that game but it goes without saying how much improvement is needed on that front especially in crunch games against world’s top-seven teams. The return of Rupinder, after a six-month injury layoff, comes as a boost in that context.

They first face Australia – a team they are yet to beat in Hockey World League – they have lost thrice the world’s no 2 team and will be eager to improve on the record before the tournament is shelved giving way to Hockey Pro League next year.

Australia are the current holders of the world title, Champions Trophy, Oceania Cup, Hockey World League and Commonwealth Games. And they will aim to extend their domination come December 1. They are expected to top their pool which also comprises Olympic bronze medallist Germany. But such has the tournament format that the outcome round-robin clashes would matter zilch as all eight teams from their respective pools will progress to the next stages even if after losing all their three matches.

India’s best finish in the event came in 2014-15 when they defeated Netherlands to claim bronze and will look to better that performance or at least emulate it. In the tournament opener on Friday, Germany face England while later in the day, host India lock horns with Australia.

India squad: Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Kothajit Khadangbam, Manpreet Singh (captain), Gurjant Singh, Mandeep Singh, Dipsan Tirkey, Lalit Upadhyay, SK Uthappa, Sumit, Amit Rohidas, Varun Kumar, SV Sunil, Birendra Lakra, Akashdeep Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Akash Chitke (GK), Suraj Karkera (GK)

Source : timesofindia



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